Hoi An Ancient Town at night Hoi An at night
Hoi An is a small ancient city near the coast in central Vietnam. Its old buildings, narrow streets and colorful lanterns make for a lovely, quaint scene - until you add in thousands of tourists that is. It reminded me a bit of Dubrovnik in that way. Like Dubrovnik, it's still worth visiting in order to see it but it's a little hard to enjoy in a sea of humanity. We stayed in a hotel located across the river from Hoi An on an island that was much more laid back even though it was only a short 10 minute walk into town.
Sunset on the River in Hoi An
Sunset over the river
Hoi An is primarily known for its tailors. There are hundreds of tailor shops there and you can get almost any article of clothing custom made in as little as 24 hours. Walking around town we saw lots of families and couples running around in matching outfits that they had clearly had made for them. I tried to get Barry to go for matching banana outfits, but he was having none of it.
Some of the interesting options in Hoi An
Some of the more interesting options available in Hoi An
Since it seems to be the thing to do here, I thought I'd give it a go. After arriving in town, we visited 4 different shops that I had scoped out online (through reading articles, blog posts and TripAdvisor reviews). In each shop we looked at the fabrics that they had available as well as some of the sample garments that they had on hand, asked about the process and the cost to make a theoretical pair of pants that I described to them, and how long it would take. The estimates for my theoretical pants ranged from USD $25-95 depending on the shop and the fabric selected.
My Son Cham Ruins
Mỹ Sơn cultural heritage area near Hoi An
At all of the shops, there are women (yes pretty much all women) available to answer questions, take measurements, make design or fit suggestions, mark or pin clothes for adjustments, and ultimately close the deal. These aren't the people that make the clothes, but they are the liaisons between customers and the people making the clothes. In many cases, you never see the people who actually do the sewing behind the scenes. The differences in the shops (and therefore the prices) have to do with the quality of the fit and finish, the time required to make the clothes, and the selection of fabrics that are available. I wasn't looking for the cheapest place, but I was looking for somewhere that I felt comfortable and that would produce good quality clothing.
Enjoying a drink at the beach in Nha Trang
Enjoying a drink at the beach in Nha Trang
Of the 4 shops we visited, I eliminated 2 right out of the gate. Mr. Xe's shop has consistently good reviews online but when we visited I felt like the people working there were kind of indifferent and the fabric selection was pretty limited. Shine Tailor was the farthest from our hotel so I was a sweaty mess by the time I got there, and the extreme high pressure sales tactics put me off right away. For a moment I thought she was going to lock us in and take my measurements by force! I decided to try having a pair of pants made at Blue Eye Tailors and a blouse made at Be Be Tailors so I could compare the two experiences. Be Be's quoted the highest price range for my theoretical pants, but they had a chiffon fabric that I loved at first sight. Be Be's also has their workshop right on site (and in sight) - interestingly, the people making the clothes were mostly men.
Hue Main Market
Street fruit market – that spiky fruit is called Durian and has a lovely aroma of rotting garbage. It smells so badly that many hotels won’t allow it in their rooms and it is banned on the subway in Singapore.
The easiest way to do this is to have an article of clothing with you that you want to replicate, maybe with some small adjustments. That way, you are certain that it will look good on you when it is finished. Otherwise, you are left with finding a picture of something that you think will look good when it's all done. You can either use the internet for this or you can use the catalogs that many shops have available (which are really just pictures taken off the internet).
Colorful Incense Sticks
Bundles of colorful incense sticks for sale
My experience with Blue Eye Tailors was kind of a dud, not because of the shop but because ultimately I didn't really like how the pants looked on me when they were finished (even though they fit just perfectly) and I didn't really know what to do to make them better. Oh well, pants are always tough for me anyway. My blouse took longer, requiring 3 fittings to get it just right, but I love how it turned out. Afterwards I decided to get a dress made at Be Be's as well which I also love. At the end of the day, I spent USD $45 for the dud pants (maybe I'll see if I can figure out how to do something with them after I get home), USD $45 for the chiffon blouse and USD $135 for the 100% silk dress. Not exactly dirt cheap but certainly less than I would have paid at home and I didn't mind paying more for better quality.
Kind of a lousy picture, but this is my new dress!
Many people opt to get tailored suits made in Hoi An. I hope to never wear a suit again, otherwise that would be a great way to get something that would fit perfectly and look great for work. At the end of the day, Hoi An was definitely worth a visit even if it was mobbed with tourists. Based on all of the construction going on around town, it only stands to get busier from here!
Imperial Tomb in Hue
One of the Imperial tombs near Hue